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University student threatened with expulsion

9 May 2023

A Baptist student in Cuba has been threatened with expulsion from his university because of his refusal to sign an oath promising to defend socialism and Marxist-Leninism.

On 3 May, the student, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, was taken to a room by a professor where he was ordered to sign the document. When the student explained that he could not do so because he believes the oath to be in conflict with his Christian faith, the professor warned him that it was ‘not negotiable’ and that he would face severe consequences for failing to sign.

The student is the son of a pastor affiliated with a registered denomination with more than a century long presence on the island. Last year, while performing the obligatory military service required of young men in Cuba, the student refused to obey orders to dress in civilian clothes and join Rapid Response Brigade paramilitary units attacking peaceful demonstrators on the streets. Although he completed his term of obligatory military service, he is now being pressured at university to join the Territorial Militia Troops (Milicias de Tropas Territoriales), which signing the oath would allow him to do.

Although freedom of conscience is mentioned in Articles 19 and 54 of the Cuban Constitution, the right is qualified in that it cannot be invoked ‘with the purpose of evading compliance with the law.’ Additionally, Article 272 of the Criminal Code which came into force late last year makes it a crime to fail to ‘defend the Homeland’ because of one’s religious beliefs.

Over the past year, CSW has noted an increase in documented freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) cases involving freedom of conscience. The majority involve young men who are reluctant to present themselves for obligatory military service due to fears that they will be ordered to carry out actions that conflict with their religious beliefs. In many such cases, entire families have fled the country in order to avoid this, joining the largest wave of emigration Cuba has seen since the 1959 revolution.

CSW’s Head of Advocacy Anna Lee Stangl said: ‘Many human rights organisations, including CSW, have expressed concern about the wording around freedom of conscience and freedom of religion or belief in the 2019 Constitution and the 2022 Criminal Code. The limitations placed on both rights, which are often linked, are so broad as to essentially negate their guarantees. This student represents thousands of young people across the island who are under pressure to comply with government orders that are in conflict with their deeply held religious beliefs. We call on the Cuban authorities to ensure that young people, including students who are attempting to remain true to their deeply held beliefs in a peaceful way, are allowed to do so without punishment and to amend the constitution and the criminal code to strengthen and enshrine both fundamental rights in harmony with international law.’

Notes to Editors:

  1. Article 54 of the 2019 Constitution states that ‘The State recognizes, respects and guarantees people freedom of thought, conscience and expression’. However, in the same paragraph it establishes that ‘Conscientious objection cannot be invoked with the purpose of evading compliance with the law or preventing another from complying with it or exercising their rights.’
  2. Article 272 of the new Criminal Code, which has been in force since 1 December 2022, establishes that ‘Whoever, abusing the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of one’s preferred religion, puts their religious beliefs or the religion the practice in opposition to the objectives of the education [system], or the obligation to work, defend the Homeland, revere its symbols or any others established by the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba [will be] punished with deprivation of liberty for a period of six months to a year…’



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